As we celebrate the New Year, 2009 AD, we Australians should also remember that on 1 January 1901 the Commonwealth of Australia was established.
We have something more to celebrate than just turning over a page in a calendar.
So, Happy 108th Birthday, Australia.
This should be known by every pupil in every Australian school, but it is not.
Not so long ago a New South Wales Minister for Education actually informed the media that the reason for Australia Day was that it commemorated Federation.
(For the benefit of our many – and valued – overseas readers, I should point out that Australia Day, 26 January, commemorates the settlement of Australia by the British in 1788.)
The Queen full well appreciated the significance of that moment both for those Australians living then and for future generations.
Her Majesty gave Sir Edmond Barton, who was to become Prime Minister, one of the duplicates of the Royal Commission of Assent, as well as the pen, inkstand and table to be preserved in the building housing the Australian Parliament.
They were used in Centennial Park in Sydney on 1 January, 1901 when the popular Governor-General Lord Hopetown and the Prime Minister and Ministers swore the Oaths of Allegiance and of Office using The Queen's pen, inkstand and table amid secenes of rejoicing at the birth of the Commonwealth of Australia.
(Incidentally, it was Sir Edmund, subsequently a High Court justice, who delivered the 1907 unanimous ruling of the High Court that the Governor-General is “the constitutional head of the Commonwealth” of Australia.)
The Act did not immediately inaugurate the Commonwealth. Otherwise Western Australia could not have become an Original State, and the Commonwealth would have been founded as portion only of our continent.
The Act has nine covering clauses. The Constitution is set in the ninth clause.
Clauses 3 and 4 ( reproduced below; click " Read more") clearly explain the reason for the delay. This was essentially to allow a referendum to be taken in Western Australia, the other states, or colonies as they then were, having already passed referendums.
Notice particularly, that The Queen had to be satisfied that the people – and not the politicians – had agreed to join the Commonwealth of Australia.
The Queen would be advised on this by Her British Ministers, but those who have studied the late Queen would know that Her Majesty would have to have been personally satisfied before that pen would be raised – and Her Ministers were well of this.
The people of Western Australia, including it must be admitted many Easterners now on the goldfields, approved the Constitution on 31 July 1900 by 44,800 to 19,691, a larger affirmative vote than was expected.
On 21 August, 1900, both House of the Western Australian Parliament passed addresses to The Queen praying that Western Australia might be included in the Commonwealth of Australia as an Original State. This would be effected by a Royal Proclamation.
The Royal Proclamation of 17 September, 1900
The colonial prime ministers ( soon to be renamed State premiers) then advised the Imperial Government – by the fastest means of communication, the telegraph – their prevailing preference as to the date The Queen would adopt to establish the Commonwealth of Australia.
This was for 1 January, 1901, not only for the dramatic reason that it was the first day of a new century, but also for the practical reason because it was the beginning of the financial half year for the colonial governments.
There had been some support for 26 January, the anniversary of the settlement in 1788, but most wanted the first day of the new century.
(Unlike those who in recent times decided 1 January 2000 was the first day of the new century and the new millenium, Victorians could count and understood that the new century began on 1 January 1901. The media mogul Rupert Murdoch recently made a disparaging remark about Victorian education; the truth is if we could only return to the standards of that time, there would be a vast improvement in the education of our children.)
Accordingly The Queen, by a Royal Proclamation of 17 September, 1900, satisfied that the people of Western Australia had agreed, declared that on and after 1 January, 1901 the six colonies should be united into a Federal Commonwealth under the name of the Commonwealth of Australia.
(For the text of the Proclamation, follow the link at " Read more" below.)
So, Happy Birthday, Australia, Happy Birthday.
Clauses 3 and 4:
“Proclamation of Commonwealth
3. It shall be lawful for the Queen, with the advice of the Privy Council, to declare by proclamation that, on and after a day therein appointed, not being later than one year after the passing of this Act, the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, and also, if Her Majesty is satisfied that the people of Western Australia have agreed thereto, of Western Australia, shall be united in a Federal Commonwealth under the name of the Commonwealth of Australia. But the Queen may, at any time after the proclamation, appoint a Governor‑General for the Commonwealth.
Commencement of Act
4.The Commonwealth shall be established, and the Constitution of the Commonwealth shall take effect, on and after the day so appointed. But the Parliaments of the several colonies may at any time after the passing of this Act make any such laws, to come into operation on the day so appointed, as they might have made if the Constitution had taken effect at the passing of this Act.
Royal Proclamation 17 September, 1900
Proclamation Declaring the
Establishment of the Commonwealth
PROCLAMATION UNITING THE PEOPLE OF NEW SOUTH WALES, VICTORIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA, QUEENSLAND, TASMANIA, AND WESTERN AUSTRALIA
IN A FEDERAL COMMONWEALTH.
(Imperial Statutory Rules and Orders, revised 1948, Vol. II., Australia, p. 1027.)
1900 No. 722.
At the Court at Balmoral,
The 17th day of September, 1900.
The Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty in Council.
The following Draft Proclamation was this day read at the Board and approved: – A. W. FITZROY.
By The Queen
WHEREAS by an Act of Parliament passed in the sixty-third and sixty-fourth years of
Our Reign intituled, “An Act to constitute the Commonwealth of Australia,” it is enacted
that it shall be lawful for the Queen, with the advice of the Privy Council, to declare by
proclamation that, on and after a day appointed, not being later than one year after the
passing of this Act, the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland,
and Tasmania, and also, if Her Majesty is satisfied that the people of Western Australia
have agreed thereto, of Western Australia, shall be united in a Federal Commonwealth
under the name of the Commonwealth of Australia:
And whereas We are satisfied that the people of Western Australia have agreed thereto
We, therefore, by and with the advice of Our Privy Council, have thought fit to issue this
Our Royal Proclamation, and We do hereby declare that on and after the first day of
January, One thousand nine hundred and one, the people of New South Wales, Victoria,
South Australia, Queensland, Tasmania, and Western Australia shall be united in a
Federal Commonwealth under the name of the Commonwealth of Australia.
Given at Our Court at Balmoral, this seventeenth day of September, in the year of Our
Lord One thousand nine hundred and in the sixty-fourth year of Our Reign.
God Save The Queen!